Hawaiian Coot Fulica alai


Justification of Red List Category
Although able to take advantage of most waterbodies, this species is listed as Vulnerable because its range is very small and susceptible to stochastic events and human activities, given that its wetland habitat is scattered and limited in area, and that only a small number of concentrations are known.

Population justification
The current population is thought to fluctuate between 2,000 and 4,000 birds, roughly equivalent to 1,300-2,700 mature individuals.

Trend justification
Survey data from 1976 to 2003 reveal short-term population fluctuations, with a long-term slight increase in the overall population (USFWS 2005).

Distribution and population

Fulica alai is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands (USA), where it is found on all the main islands except Kaho`olawe (USFWS 2005). Formerly, it was also absent from Lâna`i, which, along with Kaho`olawe, lacked suitable wetland habitat (USFWS 2005). Stragglers reach as far west as Kure in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It declined dramatically during the 20th century (Berger 1972), although it increased on O`ahu from the mid-1970s to the late 1980s. During this period, highly variable numbers on other islands showed no local trends (M. Reed in litt. 2007). Survey data from 1976 to 2003 reveal short-term population fluctuations, with a long-term slight increase in the overall population (USFWS 2005). The current population probably fluctuates between 2,000 and 4,000 individuals, with Kaua`i, O`ahu and Maui supporting 80% of this total (, Pratt 1987, Engilis and Pratt 1993, USFWS 2005). Some 30 colonies or concentrations are known (H. C. Baker and P. E. Baker in litt. 1999, J. Lepson in litt. 1999).


It can be expected on virtually any body of water, including estuaries, marshes and golf course wetlands (M. Reed in litt. 2007). It is typically a species of the coastal plain, usually found below 400 m, however some birds inhabit upland pools above 1,500 m on Kaua`i and montane stock ponds up to 2,000 m on Hawai`i (USFWS 2005). Breeding sites are characterised by robust emergent plants interspersed with open, fresh or brackish water, which is usually less than one metre deep. To some extent it is nomadic and irruptive, wandering between islands in response to the availability of water-bodies (Taylor and van Perlo 1998). It may nest in any month of the year (USFWS 2005).


Throughout its range, wetlands have been destroyed by drainage for cultivation and developments (Berger 1972, P. Donaldson in litt. 1999, S. L. Pimm in litt. 1999) such as hotels, housing areas, golf courses, shopping centres, landfill sites, military installations, roads and industrial sites (USFWS 2005). Some water-bodies have become overgrown by introduced plants (H. C. Baker and P. E. Baker in litt. 1999, M. Morin in litt. 1999). On O`ahu, artificial wetlands associated with sugarcane plantations have disappeared as these industries have declined on the island (P. Donaldson in litt. 1999). However, this has had no detectable effect on the population, based on survey data (M. Reed in litt. 2007). Introduced predators are an additional threat (Engilis and Pratt 1993, H. C. Baker and P. E. Baker in litt. 1999). These include the black rat Rattus rattus, brown rat Rattus norwegicus, domestic cat and dog, small Asian mongoose Herpestes javanicus and Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis (M. Reed in litt. 2007). H. javanicus is known to take the eggs, young birds and nesting adults of wetland bird species (USFWS 2005). Predation appears to be a serious problem on golf courses, where F. alai is abundant (M. Reed in litt. 2007). The species may be poisoned by insecticides and herbicides used to treat water channels on agricultural land and golf courses (Berger 1972, P. Donaldson in litt. 1999), although research is required to confirm this potential threat and its severity. Outbreaks of avian botulism have caused high mortality in several areas (Morin 1996, H. C. Baker and P. E. Baker in litt. 1999, M. Morin in litt. 1999, E. VanderWerf in litt. 2007).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Hunting was prohibited in 1939, and the species has been fully protected by US law since 1970 (M. Reed in litt. 2007). Several key wetland areas have been, or are being, acquired as refuges or sanctuaries, and other areas are protected by cooperative agreements. Predator control has been effective in increasing the productivity of many wetland species at Kanaha pond, Maui (H. C. Baker and P. E. Baker in litt. 1999).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Study breeding seasonality and local movements (Byrd et al. 1985). Determine the relative importance of threats (M. Reed in litt. 2007). Investigate whether herbicides and insecticides used on golf courses pose a serious threat to the species. Manage habitats, e.g. prevent ponds from drying out, or becoming overgrown by alien plants and create nesting islands inaccessible to introduced predators (Byrd et al. 1985, Engilis and Pratt 1993, H. C. Baker and P. E. Baker in litt. 1999, M. Morin in litt. 1999). Carry out predator control (M. Reed in litt. 2007). Increase the area of protected wetlands (M. Reed in litt. 2007). Where botulism is a problem, remove carcasses, manage water-levels and quality, treat sick birds and discourage or move healthy birds from affected areas (Morin 1996).


39 cm. Large, aquatic rail. Dark slate-grey plumage, darkest on head. White undertail-coverts, often concealed. Heavy, white bill, somewhat chicken-like, with bulbous frontal shield extending onto crown, variably white, pale yellow, pale blue, or deep blood-red. Red-shield morph also with dark markings near bill tip. Similar spp. American Coot F. americana, a rare visitor, has smaller and dark maroon frontal shield making profile distinctly notched in front. Voice Usually silent, but utters chicken-like keck-keck and keek notes.


Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Capper, D., Derhé, M., Isherwood, I., Pilgrim, J., Stattersfield, A., Stuart, T., Taylor, J.

Morin, M., VanderWerf, E., Lepson, J., Baker, P.E., Donaldson, P., Reed, M., Baker, H.C., Fretz, S., Camp, R., Pimm, S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Fulica alai. Downloaded from on 16/08/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 16/08/2022.